Monkeypox is spreading in North Texas amid a nationwide vaccine shortage.
Dallas accounts for about 45% of all cases in the state, the highest with 191 confirmed cases and 25 suspected cases as of Wednesday. In response, county health officials have expanded qualifications for who can get the monkeypox vaccine, but the number of available appointments is not meeting demand.
Virus anxiety may sound like the early days of COVID-19, but monkeypox doesn’t spread as easily as the coronavirus and is rarely fatal.
“The risk to the general population at present remains relatively low,” said Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, associate professor of medicine – infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s not on the same scale – not even close to – the scale of COVID. The odds of it turning into something like this are much lower.”
Here’s what medical experts also say about the monkeypox virus:
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a viral infection caused by a virus that causes symptoms similar to the now eradicated smallpox virus. It was discovered in animals used in laboratory experiments in the 1950s, and the first human case did not appear until 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, cases have been reported largely in Central and West African countries, although there have been documented cases outside the African continent.
What are the symptoms?
About one to two weeks after infection, patients typically develop flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue.
A few days after developing a fever, patients develop a rash that often begins on the face before spreading elsewhere. Lesions can look like pimples or pimples, and they go through several stages before they crust and fall off. It can be very painful.
Kulkarni said the current outbreak looks a little different than previous monkeypox infections. “It’s a bit milder. Sometimes people don’t have other symptoms like fever, chills, headache or feeling tired. They just have a rash,” he said.
This time the rash may be more limited to where it spreads. Kulkarni said many patients only report lesions in the genital area.
People who suspect they have the virus should contact their doctor for more information about testing and isolation protocols.
How long does it last and what do I do?
The illness usually lasts two to four weeks. People with the virus should self-isolate until all lesions have crusted over and a new layer of healthy skin has formed, according to CDC guidelines. Scars or skin discoloration may remain after the crusts fall off.
How does the virus spread?
Monkeypox is spread primarily from animal to person or person to person through skin contact with pests, bodily fluids, and contaminated objects such as clothing and bedding.
While it is possible for the virus to spread through respiratory droplets, which are released when someone talks or breathes, Kulkarni said it is very difficult to transmit it this way.
“You have to be close to someone for an extended period of time. A casual interaction with someone, when you walk next to them or something, is not usually thought to be sufficient to transmit the virus.
Is monkeypox a sexually transmitted disease?
“Not exactly in the classical sense, like syphilis or gonorrhea,” Kulkarni said.
Monkeypox can spread through any close contact.
“By its very nature,” he said, “sexual intercourse involves close contact, so it is a subset of close contact.” “It just so happens that in this outbreak there is a disproportionate amount of that kind of close contact and so transmission occurs.”
Most of the current cases are in men who have sex with men. Does the virus only affect the LGBTQ community?
“We’ve seen it in the MSM community, but, as you can imagine, because there’s a skin-contact component to this and it’s spread nonetheless, it can spread to anyone else,” Rick Orenberg, family practice nurse with Prism Health North Texas, an HIV/AIDS healthcare organization.
Monkeypox can affect anyone, and it doesn’t have to be spread through sex.
“Even a few children have had it, people have caught it through transmission at home and without sexual contact,” Kulkarni said. “Surely people who are not in the MSM category can also get monkeypox. It is just disproportionately in society at the moment.”
Who is eligible to get the vaccine?
Because of the limited monkeypox vaccine doses available, only people who fall into one of the following categories can receive the two-vaccine regimen:
- People who have been in close, intimate skin-to-skin contact with someone who has tested positive for monkeypox, or;
- Men 18 years of age or older who have sex with men who have had multiple or unknown sexual partners in the past 14 days.
Where can I get the vaccine?
If you qualify for the vaccine and live in Dallas County, you can get an appointment through Dallas County Health and Human Services by calling 972-692-2780.
Appointments will also soon be provided by community health partners Abounding Prosperity, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Community Health Empowerment, and Prism Health North Texas.
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